Feds on $4B shopping spree

Storm-related purchases include everything from body bags to travel trailers.

WASHINGTON - After Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast, leaving thousands homeless, Joe Shirey at CJ's RV Town called federal disaster officials with a sales pitch for travel trailers.
He e-mailed a list of every unit on his Hobe Sound, Fla., lot.

Two days later, the response came back: a few items were crossed off and "they purchased the rest," Shirey said.

The total deal: 132 trailer homes for $2.3 million.

That's as much as the dealership would normally sell in four months.

It was just part of a buying spree by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which snapped up travel trailers and prefab houses from dealers in Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama and other states.

The government has bought $4 billion in temporary housing for hurricane victims and relief workers, the most expensive item on a long shopping list that includes everything from satellite phones to body bags to diesel fuel.

For temporary roof repairs, the agency went to All American Poly Corp., where it bought $6.6 million worth of blue tarps bearing the agency's logo.

The agency bought $28 million in ready-made meals from G.A. Food Service of St. Petersburg, Fla., and it went to the Danish firm Thrane & Thrane for $3.5 million in satellite phones.

All of the contracts, along with many more, were awarded without the competitive bidding normally required for government purchases.

It's not unusual for such processes to be streamlined in disasters, but waiving safeguards raises the risk of fraud and waste, said Steven Schooner, a government contracts specialist at George Washington University Law School.

"Read about what has been spent in Iraq, and all you have to do is change the word 'Iraq' to 'Louisiana,' " Schooner said. "We appear to have learned nothing."

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and others have complained that many no-bid Iraq contracts have been wasteful.

Congress has allocated $62.3 billion for hurricane relief, before the expensive work of reconstruction even begins.

Of that amount, $15.8 billion had been spent as of last week.

Some of the purchases are detailed in a list of contracts compiled by the federal agencies making them.

But they represent only a fraction of the spending.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., charged that the White House is "throwing money at the problem with no game plan."


Courtesy: USA TODAY


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